United States v. Kirby

Decision Date01 December 1868
Citation7 Wall. 482,19 L.Ed. 278,74 U.S. 482
PartiesUNITED STATES v. KIRBY
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

THE defendants were indicted for knowingly and wilfully obstructing and retarding the passage of the mail and of a mail carrier, in the District Court for the District of Kentucky. The case was certified to the Circuit Court for that district.

The indictment was founded upon the ninth section of the act of Congress, of March 3, 1825, 'to reduce into one the several acts establishing and regulating the post office department,' which provides 'that, if any person shall knowingly and wilfully obstruct or retard the passage of the mail, or of any driver or carrier, or of any horse or carriage carrying the same, he shall, upon conviction, for every such offence, pay a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars; and if any ferryman shall, by wilful negligence, or refusal to transport the mail across the ferry, delay the same, be shall forfeit and pay, for every ten minutes that the same shall be so delayed, a sum not exceeding ten dollars.'1

The indictment contained four counts, and charged the defendants with knowingly and wilfully obstructing the passage of the mail of the United States, in the district of Kentucky, on the first of February, 1867, contrary to the act of Congress; and with knowingly and wilfully obstructing and retarding at the same time in that district, the passage of one Farris, a carrier of the mail, while engaged in the performance of this duty; and with knowingly and wilfully retarding at the same time in that district, the passage of the steamboat General Buell, which was then carrying the mail of the United States from the city of Louisville, in Kentucky, to the city of Cincinnati, in Ohio.

To this indictment the defendants, among other things, pleaded specially to the effect, that at the September Term, 1866, of the Circuit Court of Gallation County, in the State of Kentucky, which was a court of competent jurisdiction, two indictments were found by the grand jury of the county against the said Farris for murder; that by order of the court bench warrants were issued upon these indictments, and placed in the hands of Kirby, one of the defendants, who was then sheriff of the county, commanding him to arrest the said Farris and bring him before the court to answer the indictments; that in obedience to these warrants he arrested Farris, and was accompanied by the other defendants as a posse, who were lawfully summoned to assist him in effecting the arrest; that they entered the steamboat Buell to make the arrest, and only used such force as was necessary to accomplish this end; and that they acted without any intent or purpose to obstruct or retard the mail, or the passage of the steamer. To this plea the district attorney of the United States demurred, and upon the argument of the demurrer two questions arose:

First. Whether the arrest of the mail-carrier upon the bench warrants from the Circuit Court of Kentucky was, under the circumstances, an obstruction of the mail within the meaning of the act of Congress.

Second. Whether the arrest was obstructing or retarding the passage of a carrier of the mail within the meaning of that act.

Upon these questions the judges were opposed in opinion, and the questions were sent to this court upon a certificate of division.

Mr. Ashton, Assistant Attorney-General, for the United States:

There are authorities which perhaps favor the position of the government, that the arrest of the carrier of the mail under the warrant, was an obstruction of the mail and of the carrier thereof, within the intent and meaning of the act of Congress. United States v. Barney,2 decided by Winchester, J., in Maryland district, in 1810, is in that direction. The Indictment was under an act in the same words as the act of 1825. The detention was by an innkeeper, under a lien for the keeping of the horses employed in carrying the mail; and the court held that the defendant was not justified. The court says:

'The statute is a general prohibitory act. It has introduced no exceptions. The law does not allow any justification of a wilful and voluntary act of obstruction to the passage of the mail,' etc.

So in United States v. Harvey,3 where the indictment (which was under the act of 1825) was against a constable for...

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388 cases
  • People v. Maffett
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • 18 July 2001
    ...the Court relied primarily on United States v. Palmer, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat) 610, 631, 4 L.Ed. 471 (1818), United States v. Kirby, 74 U.S. (7 Wall) 482, 486-487, 19 L.Ed. 278 (1868), Lau Ow Bew v. United States, 144 U.S. 47, 50, 12 S.Ct. 517, 36 L.Ed. 340 (1892), and United States v. Katz, 271 ......
  • U.S. v. McGoff
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • 13 October 1987
    ...e.g., Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc., 458 U.S. 564, 575, 102 S.Ct. 3245, 3252, 73 L.Ed.2d 973 (1982); United States v. Kirby, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 482, 486, 19 L.Ed. 278 (1869); Transbrasil S.A. Linhas, 791 F.2d at 205-06; Government of the Virgin Islands v. Berry, 604 F.2d 221, 225 (3d ......
  • Burns v. U.S. R.R. Retirement Bd.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • 25 February 1983
    ...should be given a "sensible construction" in light of their language and their purpose for enactment. See United States v. Kirby, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 482, 486-87, 19 L.Ed. 278 (1869). Furthermore, courts should be wary of adopting a literal interpretation of a statute without considering extr......
  • State v. Varszegi
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 19 March 1996
    ...from lawful custody constitute a separate crime was firmly established in American jurisprudence. See United States v. Kirby, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 482, 487, 19 L.Ed. 278 (1869). Today, the defense of necessity in prison escape cases is almost universally recognized. See generally 30A C.J.S., E......
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    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law No. XXII-1, October 2020
    • 1 October 2020
    ...in contexts beyond criminal sanctions.140 134. Jacobson, 197 U.S. at 38–39. 135. Id. 136. Id. at 39 (quoting United States v. Kirby, 74 U.S. 482, 483 (1868)). 137. Id. at 38-39. 138. U.S. CONST. amend. VII. 139. See, e.g., Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 41 (2008). 140. See Casey, 505 U.S. at 84......
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    • United States
    • University of Washington School of Law University of Washington Law Review No. 86-3, March 2017
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    ...interpretation of the undefined term "feasible" in provision containing no numerical triggers or guidelines). 131. United States v. Kirby, 74 U.S. 482, 486-87 (1868) (emphasis added); see also Cass R. Sunstein, Avoiding Absurdity? A New Canon in Regulatory Law 4 (John M. Olin Law and Econ.,......
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    ...See State v. Ward, 438 P.3d 588, 592-94 (Wash. App. Ct. 2019), rev. denied, 193 Wash. 2d 1031 (2019). (274) See United States v. Kirby, 74 U.S. 482, 487 (1868) (observing that a prisoner who breaks out when the prison is on fire "is not to be hanged because he would not stay to be burnt"(in......
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    • Albany Law Review Vol. 84 No. 1, March 2021
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    ...following such advice remains wise. (68) See id. at 38-39. (69) Id. (70) Id. at 38. (71) See id. at 39 (quoting United States v. Kirby, 74 U.S. 482, 486 (72) See, e.g., LAWRENCE O. GOSTIN, PUBLIC HEALTH LAW: POWER, DUTY, RESTRAINT 21 (2000); Lawrence O. Gostin, Jacobson v. Massachusetts at ......
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